In the lead-up to this year's local body elections the Whanganui Chronicle asked candidates what they think about what the current council is doing for economic development, and what practical and achievable things the next council should do.
Responses are listed in the order received.
Whanganui is on track! The Financial and Leading Edge Strategies, 10-Year Plan, Annual Plan and the work of Whanganui & Partners' economic goals confirms we have entered a period of growth. Unemployment is reducing. The Housing Policy will "potentially" help reduce rental and ownership pressures resulting from growth.
Opportunities include the Port Revitalisation Project, Town Centre Rejuvenation, the Pilot Academy and major events, eg New Zealand Masters Games, Vintage Weekend and the Arts, vital for ongoing economic benefit. The Sarjeant Gallery rebuild will be of intergenerational national attention and visitor economic benefit. The allocation of about 1000 plots of land for residential homes (rates income) and the new waste water plant will support income from major industry. The Westbourne Industrial Estate is a significant plus for employment and economic gain.
Working with iwi (via Treaty settlement) and progressing the rural sector with varied agricultural possibilities is absolutely essential.
We have so many budding business men and women ... we want them to do well week after week, year after year.
But it's hard to afford the office rental, and then as a landlord having to earthquake-proof your property is expensive, too.
As a council we must change this. Let's make it easier.
How can we thrive if we make things hard for our local people.
Council's economic development arm is Whanganui & Partners (W&P). The guiding document with the vision of what W&P must do is the recently approved Economic Development Strategy. The strategy is designed to retain the businesses Whanganui has, grow business and our reputation and attract new business and students. The council must hold W&P to account to deliver on the goals and actions contained in the strategy. Most importantly, the council must stay the course, because many of the projects in the Economic Development Strategy are not quick fixes, they will take time to come to fruition.
One of my favourite initiatives in the strategy is "100% Sweet" – where young people coming out of school are supported into training and apprenticeships. This initiative has the potential to arrest the brain drain into other regions and get even more of our young people into trades and other skilled occupations.
I believe our future lies with the development of our port.
Everyone should take a look at the latest draft plan for the next stage and see for themselves how serious we are.
We are about to embark on a $25 million industrial project and it includes a swimming beach, a bombing board and a park?
Please, you can't be serious?
Can't we do something right the first time for once.
The current council has not done a lot in terms of economic development. They have prepared the Proposed Economic Development Strategy. They have got the vision, but they lacked the action. We need the vision and the action to achieve.
We are not utilising our resources very well. Our rivers and the sea should be marketed rigorously and utilised for creating business as the climate in Whanganui is great and we must encourage investors to invest in Whanganui.
Provide more incentives and advertising for tourism by help of local partners and iwi
Council should provide incentives to new businesses, employing local people, providing rates rebate for certain number of years.
Council by the help of rate payers could form a co-operative and invest in developing the port which will be a great asset. This will bring many businesses into Whanganui and this will also create more jobs.
Whanganui's economy is much improved. Property values, employment statistics, GDP, consumer spending, guest nights – all the established economic indicators are positive. Most importantly the unemployment rate has reduced from 6.5% to 4.5% in the last 12 months. A question, though, that many might ask is "What then, is the benefit for
ratepayers from the investment that has been made by Council?" The simple answer is – growth in the rating base has been restored. Last year to June 30, 2019 $700,000 of new rates income was generated by new subdivisions and new businesses. Through Whanganui and Partners, Council has a revised Economic Strategy in place – with an Action Plan underway over the next three years. We have applications lodged to the Progressive Growth Fund for Port Development and for an Advanced Aviation Training Facility. It is time now, and over the coming term, to consolidate what is already underway.
Whanganui District Council has funded Whanganui & Partners (our economic development arm) to the tune of $2.295 million in 2018/2019. W&P has an important role but also a difficult role because they are often expected to perform miracles they are unable to perform.
I have a lot of faith in new CEO, Mark Ward, who certainly has the pedigree for the role and I am confident they will perform to the best of their ability. But I expect to see tangible, sustained results.
I am concerned however, about a number of otiose promotions they have been funding recently: $15,000 to a reality TV show and $4500 to take a minor celebrity for a tiki-tour up the Whanganui River.
W&P must stick to promoting the major events it is responsible for and not be frivolous with ratepayer money on promotions that simply tickle their fancy. Spending other people's money is very easy.
Whanganui & Partners is the economic development arm of the council. This council recognised its underperformance and restructured it with the board comprising members with designated business skills, from both Whanganui and wider. Without councillor involvement on the board and operational matters a further step away from the council, Whanganui & Partners now operates well with the council's Economic Development Strategy foremost and performs according to a Statement of Intent adopted by the council. While economic development has recently accelerated, some areas of concern remain for the next council.
Our tourism performance remains dismal but, then, the nation is experiencing a downturn in this activity. I suspect Whanganui needs to lift its game more into higher-paying tourism.
Also of concern is agribusiness. Partners has recently appointed a new agribusiness manager. Over the next council term, she will be asked to deliver more from the potential of our high-performing soils.
The council is doing well at following its Annual Plan 2019-2020. I am keen to see how well the council delivers on the plan. Whanganui is at a critical time in its growth and development both as a city and as a district. I believe building partnerships and collaborating on projects and activities are key to creating a more vibrant and sustainable future.
I believe Whanganui will reap economic rewards from taking Te Awa Tupua to the world stage at Expo 2020 Dubai. The council has a clear role in supporting and working alongside iwi in telling our story, and ensuring Whanganui is ready to greet the world.
I would expect to see an increase in tourism and the business and services that support visitors to our city.
The economic growth we are experiencing in Whanganui reflects the priority the current council has placed on economic development. After investing significant resources and taking appropriate and calculated risks, we are just beginning to reap the rewards.
The establishment of the NZICPA has helped secure the viability of our airport, the strengthening and upgrade of our museum has protected the best regional museum in the country, and the Mill Rd Industrial Park has opened up Whanganui for business.
The next council will see this continue as more projects of significance will take shape.
We have the strengthened and extended Sarjeant Gallery secured, the port revitalisation and aviation hub waiting for Provincial Growth Fund approval, the velodrome waiting to be roofed, and land will soon be available for residential development in Springvale and Castlecliff.
So I think the current council is doing well and the next council must continue.
Whanganui & Partners concentrates on economic development for the council. It's well funded and is starting to perform, has an experienced CEO and is now fully staffed to achieve maximum results. Growth in population, of more than 2000 in five years, proves the council is on the right track.
Key growth opportunities are the port and International Flight Academy, requiring Regional Growth Funding and applications have been submitted. Concentrating on marketing of arts, heritage, culture and the river will drive tourism growth.
Agriculture and horticulture support via expos and specialist advice will keep our rural economy strong as this is a major income sector for our region.
Jobs for our youth and growth in incomes is key, so efforts to grow education and training options are a high priority. Support to grow retail and business with workshops, advice and funding via central government grants will get great results.
Growing our present industries is the most cost-effective way to grow our economy. People often think that the best way forward is to bring new industry into town. But by upskilling our current workforce and creating an environment that supports innovation and training we will grow our present industries and new industries will be encouraged to move here.
Whanganui & Partners is the economic arm of WDC. Their task is to achieve successful economic development outcomes. They need to be partnering with local industries to help them thrive. One area where we need to invest training and innovation is in the service industry. Seventy-five per cent the people employed in Whanganui work in the service industry.
Funding from the Provincial Growth Fund is being sought for the Pilot Academy and the port, and if achieved both will open up opportunities for economic growth and support local industry.
With the new ED team and leadership in place I'm very optimistic about what the council and our ED unit, Whanganui & Partners, will deliver. We've seen rapid growth in our International Flight Academy, achieved final funding for the Sarjeant project and we expect an announcement on the port soon. These projects, along with our private sector, will see Whanganui highly productive. This means appropriate employment and business growth opportunities for our community.
We must capitalise on this period of rapid growth and prosperity. This includes the residential building sector and those much-needed homes.
How business friendly are we? We are getting better. The council can amend its District Plan to allow for the rapidly changing environment; ensure there is land ready for commercial development and that we're more attractive and competitive than other lower-cost districts by reducing bureaucracy, becoming more streamlined, responding faster.
Let's be genuinely open for business.
Economic development is important and our council is very interested in developing local economy. I feel economic development should be held in relation to other things like the public's standard of living, their work/life balance.
I believe that economic stability and sustainability should be looked at as often as economic growth. Maybe we should investigate a more holistic system and what the role of things like the economy plays in people's lives. I feel we are not balancing economic development with social development: is money being over-valued, is it creating stresses on other parts of our lives?
Money is important of course, but so is acknowledging our own care and the care of the public.
WDC can be applauded for some great work towards real economic development.
Investment has been made in future growth with the rebuild of the waste water plant and significant infrastructure upgrades. Completion of a full round of strategic planning has been summarised by chief executive Kym Fell's Leading Edge document. Whanganui & Partners has been reinvigorated with the appointment of Mark Ward, and central government will station a regional growth adviser at the Innovation Quarter, meaning real potential for accelerated economic growth.
The key is to implement strategic thinking and to focus on achievable goals without increasing rates. On a national level, we start lobbying for a significant increase in government investment. Here in town, the immediate focus is improved facilities that will pay dividends to off-set rates, such as the rebuild of the Sarjeant and the completion of the Mountains to the Sea Cycleway.
Whanganui & Partners under new leadership is doing an outstanding job attracting business and opportunity to Whanganui. The day to day integration of Whanganui & Partners with the council is also working well. The role for council is principally to stay out of the damn way and not interfere in the day to day operations but set clear objectives and "resist mission creep" in order to keep Whanganui & Partners focused.
Internally, we need to make sure council processes are logical, fit for purpose and accessible. There is a tendency to see computerisation and online as solutions to process. With 30 years' experience getting large IT projects right, I know best process comes before best systems.
I will look closely, listen hard to business, staff and public before asking the right questions to improve the "UX" (user experience) i.e. easier and sensible business and public interactions with council.
The current council has recently updated its economic strategy. This has been developed in an environment in which Whanganui has seen an upsurge in population which is the first increase in a very long time.
The council's economic arms are Whanganui & Partners and Whanganui District Holdings. Both entities are proving to be very active and successful in the current climate. WDH have achieved much credit with the continuing development of the NZICPA. This operation is projected to make significant advances in the new year as trainees from IndiGo Air commence their training.
Iwi have already confirmed they will link with WDH to provide facilities for the NZICPA operation. Indications are there will be other opportunities to benefit our community.
A start could be made on the Sarjeant Gallery project shortly. This, along with further upgrades of our heritage buildings, will offer opportunities for our tourism industry.
Economic development in Whanganui is managed by council-controlled organisation Whanganui & Partners. They are supported by the council financially, the 2018/2019 year just under $2.3 million was allocated. The council adopted a new strategy in 2019. It takes a practical approach to what we as a district need to grow and could be a blueprint for our neighbours with minimal changes.
At the same time, the trickle down from the larger urban areas was being felt in the regions and Whanganui district was experiencing a growth spurt, all positive.
A global recession has already commenced; how New Zealand and the regional areas will be affected is unknown. Future growth areas identified in the strategy could be affected, along with changes in legislation.
The council will have to do nothing as it is Whanganui & Partners' responsibility. Their only decision is how much funding will be allocated in next year's annual plan.
The council has prioritised economic development over the past three years. We have developed a new Economic Development (ED) Strategy alongside Whanganui & Partners, committed funds towards vital port infrastructure, and supported the growth and development of the Pilot Academy (NZICPA).
Economic development can't just be about GDP growth; it has to be about wellbeing. I was pleased to be able to push for growth in the Whanganui District's median incomes as a key strategic goal in our ED Strategy.
We need to continue taking advantage of the Provincial Growth Fund. There are also opportunities available through our Sister City relationships across Australia, Japan and China. I will continue to focus on events growth throughout our district, particularly focused on the celebration of culture. There's potential to grow the value of products from our rural sector and, finally, the impending canonisation of Mother Suzanne Aubert presents a significant opportunity for Whanganui.
As the current council has started to develop the port, we need to continue this development in the years to come to try and convince larger companies that by moving their operations to or through Whanganui they can benefit from this in them reducing running costs but also Whanganui profiting in many areas because of a growth in the current working population.
We need to open more areas for residential building to persuade out-of-town working families to purchase some land in Whanganui to build their dream family home. This will create more local employment in the trade sector, produce more ratepayers and encourage businesses to open up branches in our main streets.
Getting our fundamentals right, we will see Whanganui's population and tourism increase, which will boost our economy.
Economic development is the most important thing for any town or city, without it we are going backwards, the rate burden on those left would be impossible.
Giving new businesses incentive to come to town such as rate relief, low council land rentals etc would be most unfair on our existing businesses. Although the council should encourage new businesses to town we should make the experience pleasant, efficient and seamless when issuing planning and consent approvals. Our staff work hard at this, but central government's requirements make this increasingly difficult.
This council's foresight in supporting the amazing new flight academy is classic economic development, the unseen spin-off to our community is worth millions of dollars when we consider the large number of new people, and new business - engineering, cleaning, catering, transport and more - this brings to town.
The port upgrade and art gallery are next, watch this space.
Economic development is well led by Whanganui & Partners board and staff. It costs $2.8 million in rates (4.7 per cent total) and must perform for the ratepayer.
The council have also supported our Holdings Board to invest in the Flight School, with significant economic benefits flowing through our community.
The council has worked hard to enhance our reputation and key relationships with stakeholders, including iwi and the Government.
We are getting "runs on the board" with further funding for the Sarjeant Gallery Redevelopment and further support expected for our port and Flight School.
I will unashamedly champion the benefits of sport, recreation and events in our Economic Development Plan, with the Events Centre Velodrome project. Roofing and protecting this significant asset and providing a large open-air event and concert space, is a real need in the lower North Island. Whanganui's sporting heritage deserves better, with so many benefits to offer our families and visitors.
Phillip (Bear) Reweti
Everybody moans and groans about the art gallery and my view is I've never been there and probably will never see it because there is not much use of Māori artwork. I go to the museum instead.
I'm 100 per cent for the port and getting that fixed up.
It's all good putting a roof on velodrome, but how about putting some beds underneath it for the homeless instead of wasting government money on motels and putting them in there.